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From Van City to the Oakland Commune

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
Vancouver's solidarity picket at the ports on December 12th
Vancouver's solidarity picket at the ports on December 12th

I arrived in Oakland late in the afternoon on January 30th, 2012. When I arrived I began frantically trying to contact my friends, as I had limited ability to do this in the day before I headed to the Bay Area and I was having trouble finding a place to stay.

None of my friends were answering.

It wasn't until later in the evening that I was finally able to contact someone who had just gotten out of jail. They had been held for two days after getting arrested in a police kettle in an attempt to occupy the Kaiser Convention Center, during Occupy Oakland's "Move In Day." The idea for the action was for some, an attempt to take action against homelessness in the area, and for some a high-profile action against private property. In either case it was with only very few exceptions, an attempt to for the "occupy" movement, to actually occupy something, rather than the very dubious concept that has been the occupy movement so far causing many to make a call to "decolonize the 99%." As public space is already very much colonized or occupied, (by police forces, surveillance, capitalist interests) is "occupy" really the correct term for it's liberation?

My comrades who have helped me out with a place to stay for the night are not beaten, broken or victims, rather they are just happy to have a clean shower. They are not shocked with the police actions on Saturday. In fact they tell me that many of the comrades they have spoken with thus far are quite pleased with the street fighting that occurred against the often formidable opponents that have been the Oakland Police Department (OPD) . They are also pleased at the way in which the concept of a diversity of tactics played out, with those most interested in fighting the police taking the front, supporters behind, and many of those uncomfortable with the situation being able to leave out the back. The only pains my comrades described to me the first evening was the demoralizing experience of being stuck in a cell with others from Occupy Oakland, who had decided to be nice to the guards in hopes of being treated better.

As the next couple days pass I am told stories of people being gay bashed by prison guards. I am told of people being denied medical attention and medications. I am also told that many of the other prisoners were being held on lock down in the days preceding the mass arrest as a way to turn them against the "Move In Day" prisoners. This did nothing to help the prison guards, as many a prisoner raised their fists in salute as "Move In Day" prisoners were being brought past their cells.

At some point in the next week I moved into a squat that another friend of mine was staying at. The squat had been open for about nine months. Here people were meeting their housing needs through direct action, and converting the space into something that did not fit into the logic of capitalism. Next door another squat was fixing the floor of a rundown corner store building, in the hopes of eventually turning it into an Anarchist social space. In the time leading up to my departure, many were questioning the choice of the Kaiser Convention Center. A number of people pointed to the example of these smaller squats as something more attainable for Oakland. The tactic has been quite successful in Seattle. The somewhat contentious issue for the majority of my trip seemed to be the target of the "Move In Day" action, rather the tactics employed to reach it.

On the following Saturday, The Holdout, a rented Anarchist Social Center in West Oakland had it's grand opening celebration. During the day I attended a workshop given by a former Black Panther about the history of struggle in Oakland taking it all the way back to the General Strike of 1946, and repression. The workshop was useful for just about everyone in the room as he was easily able to tie it into their struggles with the Oakland Commune, and the Oscar Grant rebellions. His feeling was that Oakland has not achieved their recent success, so much as a result of "being more militant", but more because of an entrenched historical consciousness, not based around the color of one's skin, but from a history of class struggle in the Bay Area.

In the evening there was a party, and I was debating whether to stick around or to head to the "FTP" march. At the start of the new year, the Tactical Action Committee or TAC, from Occupy Oakland, called for weekly "Fuck The Police" marches, under a diversity of tactics, the most intense of which was the first one, where projectiles were hurled at police and property was attacked, including that of the corporate media. I was warned by many to watch out at this march as the pigs had been using both kettling and snatch squads against these demonstrations. In the end I decided not to go, as I didn't know the streets very well and couldn't find anyone to go with me. The march ended without any major battles with police, or arrests. It was said that the majority of those attending the party had been regulars at these marches, this week they felt that given their experiences last week on "Move In Day", and the fact that these were weekly marches, they could afford to miss one march as there would be chances to pick up the momentum later. In spite of this fact the march was still attended by about 300 people, something I was very inspired to hear. I've really gotta give it up to the Tactical Action Committee for their bold decision to have weekly marches with this level of confrontation. I can only imagine how draining this must be on one hand, and also how great it must feel to confront the police on a weekly basis.

As I was leaving the party I bumped into a couple people I knew at the corner store, they told me to come and check out the General Assembly the next day. The General Assemblies have been moved away from Oscar Grant Plaza, and into a park at 19th and Telegraph, as a large number of people who wanted to participate in the GA's had been given "stay away" orders from OG Plaza after previous arrests. When I arrived at the park it immediately struck me how similar the feeling was to the GA's at Occupy Vancouver, there was however many great differences here, the most obvious was how well many people across age groups etc, seemed to know each other.

After some time the GA broke off into groups to discuss the previous weeks action, while the Tactical Action Committee had a break off group to discuss the FTP marches. I listened in for a while on the FTP discussion which was more like a dude with a camera asking questions about the dichotomy between violence and non-violence. Those answering the questions were having a hard time breaking through this language though a very useful analysis of that conversation can be found on this blog.

I eventually moved on to one of the discussion groups about the "Move In Day" action. When I entered the group and started listening, one person was stating that standing up to the police on Saturday was a mistake as it would make it impossible for members of the teacher's union for example to stand up in front of the classroom and say that they supported such actions. One Anarchist then piped in asking the question: would the teacher's union support the challenging of property relations, and capitalism as a whole? The obvious answer was no. They then went on to point out that an institution such as a union bureaucracy could and would never support such actions, and worrying about such things would only lead to watered down politics. Later, a local fireman entered the conversation agreeing with the anarchist, stating that he never wore his union colors to the GA's or actions, and that watered down politics was "exactly why we are all here in the first place." The fireman was also vocally supportive of the black bloc actions seen thus far in the movement.

This was all very hard to take in as Occupy Vancouver had a totally different relationship to firefighters, who were there in uniform, working very closely with the police and City Government to evict us. It was not helping that many of the larger personalities at Occupy Vancouver were scrambling to comply with fire orders via the GA's, many of these larger personalities were tied in some way to local political parties such as Vision Vancouver, and the NDP. It seems to me that since Oakland took such a strong stance against politicians, and political representation, this opened a possibility for genuine solidarity from individual firefighters etc no longer tied to their roles in capitalist society.

Another major difference I nocticed at the Oakland GA's was the lack of bickering over process, and that not a single person was rushing around finding ways to inject more beauracracy. As a result the GA was far more productive than any I had seen in Vancouver, the actual issues were dealt with and not abstracted by any model for making decisions.

Before I left the GA and California as a whole I got the sense that people were looking forward to the May Day general strike as the next major action for the people of the Oakland Commune. May we get something together here in Vancouver as well?

In finishing, I would like to dedicate a video to Greg Renouf (best known for this) and all the haters out there! It is a video of Eddie Falcon of the 40 Thieves, Veterans Against the War, a San Francisco based rapper and Anarchist, giving a performance before one of the marches to shut down the Port of Oakland on December 12th. He played a dope set at the party at the Holdout on Saturday night, and gave me his CD, I've been bumpin' it ever since I got back to Coast Salish Territory! Enjoy!

From Oakland to Van City!

For an End to all Domination and Exploitation!

All Power to the People!

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